Muslimness: How Muslim are You?

After few failed attempts to connect with the Muslim community in my new city, I realized that it comes down to an inherent question of “muslimness.” “Muslimness,” defined as that which makes us look more or less Muslim, is constantly present in many converts’ minds, particularly right after conversion.

The first time I attended a Jumma’ah prayer in Ottawa, there was a shahadah being performed. The soon-to-be Muslim woman, sat there in her white jeans, short top and lose hijab (while some of the women gossiped about her clothing), waiting for the imam to call upon her. The imam, screaming from the main floor to the second (because God forbid a woman should walk among men), asked the woman to say the typical shahada words “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is its messenger.”

“The words resonated in my head as I recalled that those same words were the beginning of a bittersweet relationship with the mosque environment for me (and I am not the only one).”

Still that way, I managed to shake those thoughts out of my head, and I approached the new convert. Before performing the prayers, I had noticed that there were no “visible” converts in the mosque (some converts stick together and identify each other quite easily).


                                        The Ottawa Muslim Association.

I reached out to the new convert with the hope of making a new friend and perhaps connecting with some Muslim women in the mosque. I introduced myself and, as I told her that I was a convert myself and expressed my desire to connect with new converts, I was pulled aside by an Arab lady in a black abaaya and hijab. “It will be better for her to learn Islam from someone who is in a position to teach it.” I stood perplex. Despite the rude intermission I decided to ask this woman about other converts, explaining that I was new to the city. The woman said “Converts are not really around. People in here don’t like them. They are all party girls.” I have never considered myself a party girl, even before Islam. I don’t really do late nights. But I realized that she was talking about something else… She was talking about “muslimness.” I found no words other than “O.k. then!” and moved on.

In my new mosque it did not matter that I actively sought to wear black abaayas and plain hijabs not to draw the attention of judgy women while in the mosque or that I was new to the city and had a big need to connect with other Muslim women… I just wasn’t as “Muslim” as the rest of them were.  What is perhaps worse (I don’t know anymore), I did not LOOK Muslim enough!

If you have read my blog before you will know that I used to think that my little Albertan Muslim community was unwelcoming for women in general and converts… but I soon realized that Alberta fell short in comparison to the new mosque. “Muslimness” in here was quite important.

But I shouldn’t say it is the only place. After leaving Alberta, I noticed a few of my convert friends were struggling. I am not sure if it is a new tend, or if it has always been there, but these days a lot of born-Muslims are concerned about how Muslim converts are. A few days ago, a fellow convert married to a South Asian Muslim, expressed her discomfort at the fact that classmates question her children not only about their “weird” looks (the mother is Caucasian) but also about their “Muslimness” since their mother is a convert. Another close friend has giving up all together. The major problem for her was the hijab thing, people questioned her all the time about not wearing the hijab full-time and eventually became such an issue that some fellow Muslims (even coverts) decided to stop inviting her to social events for not complying with the standard.  A fellow working convert, married to a Lebanese Muslim, has her “Muslimness” continuously questioned because she “allows” her daughter to professional perform Highlands dance.

I have always thought that these questions came from Muslims that had nothing better to do… But perhaps it is more complex than that… I don’t really know. The ironic part of all of this is that the day I joined the Jumma’ah prayer in that mosque, the imam talked about the rise of Islamophobia in the province and called us to stick together and not being afraid of showing that we are Muslims…

“After his speech, I could not help but feeling that despite Islamophobia being a very real thing, many mosques use it in their rhetoric to sweep under the rug other kinds of injustices and exclusions in our own communities.”

4 thoughts on “Muslimness: How Muslim are You?

  1. qudsiamall says:

    salaam alaykum sis,im really sad you feel this way and just happen to be surrounded by a group of judgmental folk who focus too heavily on the external. i was a total non conformist muslim before discovering the sunnah and “converting” to it. i was never once told to change my dress and in the end i did because no one forced me and instead allowed me to grow into it spiritually by myself first. all they did was teach e the beliefs and sense and logic behind islam and i acted it ut for myself, that was the fruit of faith that ripened in its own time. you need to surround yourself with more tolerant people who will guide you and help you in your faith and accept that the dress code isnt the easiest thing for you at this time and just be a sister to you in sincerity and goodness of faith. connect with naima B roberts the author and the sisters magazne as well as people on her FB page, yooure bound to find better company inshaAllah, may Allah guide and protect and nurture your faith,Ameen.

  2. EMV says:

    The main issue behind all of this appears to be that because Muslims have NOT established a recognized “Public Minimum” – that is, the basic minimum that an individual needs to do to be considered “part” of the Muslim Community (ie. It SHOULD be the Shahada) – we have transported our own “Private Maximum” – the individual and private practice/worship that a Muslim does (eg. wearing hijab/having a beard, praying Sunnah, fasting Mondays and Thursdays) – to the community/public realm and have made it the standard by which we judge other Muslims, particularly converts. This is partly because we cannot even AGREE as a community, what makes someone Muslim. This results in brothers and sisters feeling like they need to act or dress or “be” a certain way so that they can fit into the community, and being judged harshly when they don’t appear to fit in. When, in reality, if someone has taken Shahada, that should be the minimum they need to have to fit into the community. It should not be converts trying to have enough “Muslimness” so that they will be accepted, rather our communities need to be more compassionate, patient and understanding that everyone takes a different journey and a different pace, and that being supportive and helpful is not synonymous with being judgemental and intolerant.

  3. Lesley says:

    I appreciate each and every one of them and I make sure they know it.
    Always interact with your readers and answer to their comments if you
    wish to keep them subscribed to your blog.

  4. Julie says:

    I am also from Ottawa. I have not been to the Ottawa Muslim Association, but my experience with mosques in general has been negative as well. The community as a whole may not be so unwelcoming, though – I often get people approach me just to say how happy they are to see me (visible white convert)! Which is still odd, but at least not hostile.

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